Firstly, Happy New Year folks! I hope you all managed to make the most of what you could do over the festive period! At least we had hours upon hours of football to keep us all occupied whilst we indulged in far too much food and drink.
Now that the festive fixtures are over, we can look ahead to GW18 and what will be a blank game week! Only 12 teams play across 6 fixtures, which continue to be very spread to accommodate fan viewing during these very unprecedented times, so other than the choice between Burnley vs Man Utd or Wolves vs Everton, you can watch each one live!Embed from Getty Images
Through the general murmurings across the Twitter community and from my own personal approach to navigating this schedule, I think many will be using that all important Free Hit chip to build the best squad we can for the blank game week. My first piece of advice before going into prime options and differentials is this – DO NOT ACTIVATE THAT CHIP UNTIL MINIMUM 24 HOURS BEFORE THE DEADLINE!
Why I hear you ask? Well I write this following Boris’ latest announcement of another national lockdown. We have also had 3 fixture postponements over the last 2 game weeks so the last thing you want is to see 3 fixtures wiped out this week then we are left with Sheffield United vs Newcastle, Arsenal vs Crystal Palace & Wolves vs Everton for instance! If that were the case, I would save the Free Hit and simply bring in one or two captainable options and hope for the best… Nobody will be scoring 100+ with only 3 available fixtures. Plus, we also have ongoing positive Covid cases and often we only find out the names of those players missing very shortly before the games begin. Plus, we have cup fixtures to contend with before the BGW18 kicks off on Tuesday 12th January!
Now that we have the Covid risks out of the way, lets focus on options for each of the fixtures. I will split the following summaries up into the 6 fixtures and provide what I believe to be the most obvious alongside the best differential options for your Free Hit squads.
Match 1 – Sheffield United vs NewcastleEmbed from Getty Images
First things first, I cannot recommend anyone from Sheffield United for your Free Hit squads!
2 points from 17 fixtures will almost certainly see them relegated at the end of the season. I was fortunate enough to watch Southampton turn them over at St Mary’s during that very limited period in which we were allowed fans and believe me, they were awful! Actually, I tell a lie, there is one player you could have! If you are looking for an incredibly cheap bench fodder option to free up funds then Kean Bryanat 3.9m is a defender in the game. We all love a 3.9m option sat plum last on our bench don’t we. Plus, I don’t expect many of us will be playing 5 at the back as a Free Hit team now will we?
As for Newcastle, there are a few options we could look at!
Goalkeeper Karl Darlow at 5.0m is an option as he seems to have that No.1 Jersey for now, but with Dubravka now waiting in the wings I wouldn’t risk it. However, if you feel Newcastle are worthy of a clean sheet then Fernandez (4.7m) & Clark (4.5m) are worthy contenders. 3 assists for Fernandez and a goal for Clark respectively shows they can pop up with an attacking return or two. However, DeAndre Yedlin (4.3m) could be a viable option. He has started the last 4 games and whilst still a risky pick, at 4.3m he could be a bargain if he gets a clean sheet at Sheffield United.
Looking further forward, I genuinely think the only option even worth considering is Callum Wilson (6.5m). He hasn’t exactly been the most prolific in his last 4 with 1 goal & 1 assist but given he has played Liverpool & Leicester amongst those then I can’t be too critical. I can see him getting an attacking return at Sheffield United and therefore I think he is very much worth a gamble in your Free Hit squads.
Match 2 – Burnley vs Manchester UnitedEmbed from Getty Images
A very difficult fixture for Burnley!
Very tricky for them indeed and given the form that United are in as of late, I can’t see them getting anything from this one. If you’re budget is really stretched or you are looking for a bench option just in case of postponements then Lowton(4.4m) & Pieters (4.3m) are viable playing candidates for those spots, but don’t expect anything more than 1-2 points in my humble opinion.
Manchester United on the other hand…
Defensively I feel David De Gea (5.3m) & Maguire (5.4m) are too expensive to risk Burnley getting a goal in the game. Plus, with the attacking talent that United have why would we be spending big on them at the back? However, if you fancy them for a clean sheet then both Luke Shaw (4.8m) & Eric Bailly (4.9m) could be worth the punt! Whilst Lindelöf remains out, Bailly has slotted in defensively and took all 3 BPS in their 1-0 win at home to Wolves in GW16. Capable of a goal from a set piece too, will we see him in a few squads comes deadline?
Moving into midfield, I think the two primary options will inevitably be Bruno (11.2) & Rashford (9.6). 18 goals & 12 assists between them so far this season, they have recently been in formidable form. In the last 4 games Bruno has 7 attacking returns whilst Rashford has 2. I fully expect most teams to go with Bruno but the gamble could be doubling up on both assets for the fixture. Will you be bold enough to spend 20.8m at the time of writing this on 2 United midfielders?
A real risk but are you willing to take a punt on a United forward? It is difficult to predict which of the duo will get the nod against Burnley so I can’t say I will be going for one myself, but Martial at 8.7m & Cavani at 7.8m respectively, they are certainly cheaper alternatives to their midfield colleagues.
Match 3 – Wolves vs EvertonEmbed from Getty Images
A tough one to predict!
I honestly can’t call this one. Two good teams who will provide a stern test for their opponent. In terms of Free Hit potential, I can’t see any assets from either team being that highly owned in GW18, primarily due to just how unpredictable this game could be. We could see a dull 0-0 in which both teams look to cancel the other out, or we could see a 3-3 as we saw when Brighton looked to take on Wolves punch for punch in GW17.
I don’t think I would go near either team defensively but if you fancied a punt that could lead to an attacking return then perhaps Wolves’ Romain Saiss (5.1m) if worthy of a place in your squads. 2 goals in his last 3 games has certainly put him back amongst the thoughts of FPL managers and a run of 6 straight 90 minutes seems to indicate he has his place back for now.
In terms of midfield options for Wolves, the two options under consideration are Neto (6.0m) & Traore (6.1m). Both have shown glimpses of the quality they have and given their cheap price tag, they could be worth a chance if you are going with a number of big guns elsewhere in your squads. Podence (5.5m) would have been another suitable consideration, but at the time of writing I have my doubts about him featuring. Missed out through injury in GW 17 and only played 35 minutes in GW16, so I would not be surprised to see him miss out in 18.
As for Everton, James Rodriguez (7.7m) would appear to be the best of the bunch in terms of midfield options. Having missed the 4 previous weeks through injury, he returned with a cameo 26 minutes against West Ham and I would expect him to be back in the starting line-up. Can he return to match that early season form of 3 goals & 3 assists that had every purring over the prospect of owning him?
Up top we have DCL (7.9m) & Richarlison (7.8m) to choose from. Neither have performed particularly well as of late with only 2 goals & 3 assists in 6 games between them but can they be the ones to unlock Wolves’ defensive line? If I were to put my hat on one, I think I would actually take the punt on Richarlison for this one… Purely a gut feeling!
Match 4 – Man City vs BrightonEmbed from Getty Images
Which numbers will Pep Roulette land on this time?
Well then! If we see the City that we just witnessed teaching Chelsea a lesson in football then Brighton are in for a very tough night. They ran riot and any one of them could have hauled on the night. In all seriousness, if you aren’t going into the Free Hit with at least 2 City assets then I am not sure what you are doing… I expect many will have 3!
We will of course await news on whether Ederson will be available to play but if not then my oh my do we have an option in Steffen (4.4m). To have the opportunity of having a 4.4m keeper available to play for a team like City in a Free Hit would be amazing. If that is the case, his ownership will surely rocket for one week only!
If you fancy a City for the clean sheet then Cancelo (5.7m), Dias (5.8m) & Stones (5.0m) are all viable options and all appear to be first choice in Peps backline. Personally, I would be backing Cancelo as an FPL asset for the free hit. Not only will the opportunity of a clean sheet be there, but he is due an attacking return. Time and time again he is putting the ball in to the box and he has been incredibly unlucky in that he only has one FPL assist to his name so far this season.
Moving into midfield, wouldn’t we all love if we had confirmation that Foden (6.2m) starts prior to the deadline. A 14 point haul against Chelsea surely puts him in the pecking order, but this is Pep and we all know how badly burnt we have been this season when owning Foden. At almost double his value, KDB (11.6m) & Sterling (11.4m) would be the only 2 that you could surely predict will be amongst the starting 11 for certain. De Bruyne in particular was at his exceptional best against Chelsea and could do Brighton some serious damage in GW18. If you don’t have him in your free hit squad then do so at your own risk. He is the first name on my team sheet!
If you really fancy a punt then Aguero (10.3m) could be a viable option, but I would want confirmation from Pep that he will be starting before even considering him and we all know how tough that will be!
Honestly, I don’t think Brighton assets are of any consideration in this one and I wont therefore bore you with any viable options. Good luck if you do select any!
Match 5 – Aston Villa vs SpursEmbed from Getty Images
An exciting encounter ahead… hopefully!
I can honestly see goals in this from both teams so I am going to avoid the defensive options altogether this time round. Attacking returns from any of them is very difficult to predict and although if one goes off it could prove to be a massive differential, landing on the right one is a pure punt.
Moving forward and looking at the home team first, Grealish(7.7m) will be the obvious choice for many. He creates so many chances and in the last 6 games he should have had far more than the 3 assists he has… he just needs those around him to finish the chances off! If you are looking for a far cheaper alternative then McGinn (5.5m), El Ghazi (5.8m) & Traore (5.9m) are all capable of attacking returns. El Ghazi has 5 goals in 6 & Traore has 3 goals in 6 so either one could justifiably bag another against Spurs. Watkins (6.1m) remains the only striking option for Villa but with only 3 assists in the last 6 and all coming against Palace, I won’t be gambling on him this time round.
As for Spurs, need I say much more than the only 2 assets any one of us will be considerable are the formidable Kane(11.0m) & Son (9.7m). 38 attacking returns between them so far this season, it is fair to say their partnership has been exceptional! However, I would be very hesitant as to double up on them against Villa. One is certainly a possibility but I can’t see many teams doubling up, particularly when we will inevitably be going big with City, United & Arsenal who will be coming up shortly. The big question is, which one will you go for?
Match 6 – Arsenal vs Crystal PalaceEmbed from Getty Images
Who knew we would all want an Arsenal treble up?
Well then… I can’t say I ever thought I would be tripling p on Arsenal assets this season but here we are. Following 3 wins on the spin, including a resounding 3-1 victory over Chelsea, Arsenal have seemingly found some form. Personally, I think this is partly down to Arteta finally dropping those who questioned his philosophy and bringing in the youth such as Martinelli & Smith-Rowe who have performed admirably since making their way back into the 11.
Defensively Arsenal have also improved and a number of their assets have vale & clean sheet potential for BGW18. Leno (4.9m) is a great value keeper who also picks up save points along the way, so could be a prime candidate to fill the rile this week in your squads. Holding (4.5m) is an even cheaper way into that backline! He picked up 3BPS in GW16 & then the assist in GW17 to rack up a solid 19 in 2 games! If you can afford to however, I think Tierney (5.4m) should be the one you move for. He finally showed his attacking potential against West Brom with a goal & assist and if Artetacan allow him license to roam as he did, then I expect further attacking returns in the not so distant future.
Moving forwards, usually I would be touting Aubameyang(11.3m) as the prime candidate but I really don’t think he is. With only 3 goals and 1 assist so far this season, that is hardly payment for his inflated price tag. He could of course haul against Palace, but I won’t be gambling my funds on him. 2 far cheaper candidates are however worth consideration! Saka(5.3m) & Smith Rowe (4.4m) are incredible value!
Saka has 2 goals and 2 assists in his last 3, whilst Smith Rowe has 3 assists. It is no coincidence that Arsenals fortunes have turned following Smith Rowes inclusion. He provides that spark of creativity that Arsenal had been missing and alongside Saka’s continued form, they have lifted Arsenal up the table! Finally, we have Lacazette (8.2m) leading the line for Arsenal. 4 goals in his last 3 games and at only 8.2m, I fully expect to see him in a lot of Free Hit teams come the start of GW18!
As for Crystal Palace, I expect to see Mitchell (3.9m) in many Free Hit squads primarily down to his price tag and the fact he has now started the last two games. I don’t expect him to be among our starting 11’s, but a very useful proposition should we need him from the bench. However, the 2 prime candidates from an attacking threat are both Zaha (7.4m) & Eze (5.8m). Both very capable on their day and if they do cause Arsenal problems, I expect either one will be involved! Perhaps a useful punt if you’re looking to get away from template players amongst your Free Hit team.Embed from Getty Images
As a Jumpers for Goalposts team, we have each picked a differential that we believe is worth punting on within your Free Hit squads! These are as follows:
@FPL_ElStatto – “Lacazette – 4 goals in his last 3 games. Playing as the central forward and seems to be benefitting from the pace of Saka & skill of Smith Rowe just behind him.”
@fpl_marshal – “Smith Rowe – At 4.4m he’s a steal! He has started each of the last 3 games and has 3 assists in that time. His inclusion in the starting 11 has coincided with Arsenal’s revival so I think he’ll be in the starting 11 for the foreseeable.”
@FplFoxy – “Bailly – He’s a cheap alternative to Maguire/AWB & has been a standout in United’s last 2 fixtures. Offers very good value for a potential clean sheet against Burnley.”
@CleanWipeoutFPL – “Cancelo – Still only 10% owned at the time of writing and I have a gut feeling he is due an attacking return as well as the clean sheet!”
@statto99 – “Gundogan – Less than 1% owned and currently matching Salah for goal threat. In the last 4 both have 7 attempts in the box, with 4 of them as big chances. Gundogan has more attempts (10 v 9) & 1 more goal (3 v 2). He is only outperformed by El Ghazi & Bruno Fernandes.”
I hope you find the article useful and it goes some way to helping you select the ideal Free Hit squad to tackle the blank game week. Good luck folks and may your arrows be green!
Cheers! Clean Sheet Wipeout.